With a title track so strong, right at the peak of Bob Dylan’s heights, listeners can once more expect a perfect ensemble of songs. The Times They Are A-Changin’ benefits greatly from that acoustic guitar and harmonica blend. A stripped-back simplicity that would hold within it the old folk tones of country and Willie Nelson. To release this and Another Side of Bob Dylan in the same year is just showing off. But Dylan does that well. He is never a showboat, but he is surely aware of this talent for great, consistent art. A collection of ballads and meaningful odes to a generation on the cusp of change.
His album title is rather literal. Historical change took place throughout the rise and fall of the hippie generation. The Beatles, Martin Luther King and The Gulf of Tonkin were all at the heart of America and capturing such a period is no small feat. Dylan does it naturally. With tracks like Ballad of Hollis Brown, there is a removal from the cultural shift. His timelessness on this track particularly comes from the isolation from the events of the world around Dylan. Its meaning and black tone feel reflective of the Great Depression more than anything, a farmer who takes his and his family’s life. Grim stuff, but written and performed with that integral, inevitable charm.
Where The Times They Are A-Changin’ truly stands out though is With God on Our Side. His longest studio song at the time, Dylan would always impress with those seven minutes and beyond. The best of his entire discography clock in at double the time of a usual single. Hurricane, Like a Rolling Stone and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands all stretch what is perceptible in Dylan’s writing. With God on Our Side does much the same. An excellent seven minutes spent questioning whether God is on the side of American strife and war. It’s an interesting, religiously-oriented track that does not feature the later, questionable qualities of Dylan’s gospel album era.
Possibly one of the most accessible Dylan albums, The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a perfect representation of his early works. Folk ballads with a cutting edge to them which, like the comparison or not, did provide a voice to a generation. When the Ship Comes In and Boots of Spanish Leather are key highlights too, and although they may not be topping any lists of Dylan’s greatest tracks, it is their inclusion here that is so exciting and engaging. Philosophising the folk genre, Dylan goes to great lengths in making The Times They Are A-Changin’ an accessible piece, and he does so with great integrity. He does not make the usual sacrifices of an artist attempting to appeal to a wider audience. He hooks the unconvinced listener, sits them down for ten incredible tracks and lets the ballad-like tones and acoustic-heavy tracks take hold. It is an album that will mark itself as one of the greatest, but it is just the tip of the iceberg for this period of Dylan’s work.